Electromagnetic hypersensitivity in limelight in Norway - brought by an unlikely adversary

Former Head of the WHO EMF Project, Mike Repacholi, commented  that the former Head of the WHO, Gro Harlem Brundtland, spread Photo: author

HELSINKI, April 14, 2012On April 12, Mona Nilsson  blogged that Norwegian newspapers brought attention to EHS. Nilsson is an investigative reporter who in 2011 uncovered the industry connections of Swedish epidemiologist Anders Ahlbom, leading to his resignation from the IARC meeting classifying carcinogenicity of cell phone radiation.

According to Nilsson’s posting, three major Norwegian newspapers published simultaneously on April 12, a story where Mike Repacholi, former Head of WHO EMF Project and Chairman Emeritus of the ICNIRP, complains that Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Head of the WHO, spread fear of cell phones by admitting that she suffers EHS symptoms from cell phone radiation,. Also, Norwegian journal Plot published in April/May issue a long story about this subject.

According to Norwegian newspaper Aftenbladet Gro Harlem Brundtland said:

It is not the sound but the electromagnetic waves I react from. And the sensitivity has become so severe that I react to mobile phones that are closer to me than about four meters”

 ”…Asked whether he agrees that Brundtland’s statement has created fear in the population, he [Mike Repacholi] replied:

- I agree massively! Completely agree! That was a very unfortunate thing to say. …”

The statement of “fear” is overblown and not in line with reality. In Scandinavian countries, where as Dr. Repacholi mentions there is the highest prevalence of self-diagnosed EHS people, there are more cell phones than the inhabitants.

Scandinavians, including babies, have more than one cell phone per person. Where is the fear? The Scandinavian cell phone market seems well saturated. “Fear” does not prevent people from having cell phones.

On the other hand, Dr. Brundtland’s statement put EHS into the mainstream and gave it legitimacy.

The Aftenbladet newspaper mentions the “Gro-effect”:

Norwegian researchers point to Gro-effect

Both the WHO and the Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency refer to recognized research, that can not find evidence for electromagnetic hypersensitivity. They recognize the symptoms, but not that they are caused by mobile radiation. In a study from 2008, scientist Gunnhild Oftedal and colleagues conclude that electrical hypersensitive persons expect a detrimental effect when they are talking on the mobile phone. Therefore, the effect occurs. This is called a nocebo effect. The study goes a long way in providing Brundtland’s initiative and the subsequent media coverage with a shared responsibility for the widespread fear of radiation in the population.”

The nocebo comment is very interesting.

It is indeed known that our mind can affect what we feel physically. It can affect our physical well being and induce physical symptoms that otherwise would not be there.

Dr. Oftedal uses nocebo effect as one of the arguments dismissing the existence of causal link between EHS and EMF.

However, in my opinion, nocebo effect has also another consequence.

In my previous column “European experts in disarray over EHS” I said that the, so far executed, scientific studies have no objective potential to confirm or to dismiss the possibility of causal link between EHS and EMF.

Dr. Oftedal and her colleagues disagreed in their comment posted in my column:

“…In truth, though, the quality of the studies doesn’t matter much here. Instead, you seem to disagree with the fundamental paradigm of studies which expose people with EHS to real and sham EMF under double-blind conditions in order to assess subjective symptoms or most physiological effects. This is because you believe that ‘Conditions of the experiment and the ambiance of the place are certain causes of stress that affects responses and reactions of study subjects’.”

It is very puzzling and seriously disturbing that EHS experts say “…the quality of the studies doesn’t matter much here…”. No further comment necessary.

My opinion that the conditions of experiment have impact on the reliability of obtained results is correct.  The nocebo effect mentioned by Dr. Oftedal supports my opinion.

If our minds can play “tricks” on us, as Dr. Oftedal says in her nocebo comment, then it is as well possible that minds also may play “tricks” on persons under experimental duress.

Mental stress among the EHS volunteers participating in scientific experiment could play a “trick” on their minds and cause confusion. Hence, I argue the answers provided by EHS persons are not objective. In consequence, the scientific evaluation of such subjective data leads nowhere.

This way the nocebo-like effect can, in my opinion impact on scientific objectivity of EHS studies.

It seems that Dr. Oftedal and colleagues like to have it both ways. Their attitude is biased. They use nocebo to support the notion that there is no causal link between EMF and EHS but, the same scientists, do not accept that the same nocebo-like effect, playing with our minds, makes such EHS studies very unreliable, to say the least.

We need objective data to determine causality between EMF and EHS. Such objective data can be provided by molecular level analyses of samples taken from EMF exposed persons (healthy or EHS). Unfortunately, there is no interest in funding such studies. Rather, there is a strong opposition to any molecular level studies in human volunteers, whether healthy or self-diagnosed EHS.

On several occasions in my science blog and in this science column, I have mentioned that we do not know whether cell phone radiation really affects human physiology. The reason is that only three studies on humans providing objective data were performed. This is a significant gap in the knowledge. Without this missing scientific evidence it is not possible to decide whether our current safety standards are sufficient to protect all users.

However, nobody wants officially admit that only three human studies were done and this is insufficient for setting safety guidelines. If it would be publicly admitted that we do not know whether human body reacts to cell phone radiation and, if it reacts, in which way, then the belief in the correctness of the current safety standards will fall like “house of cards”.


Read more from Dariusz Leszczynski in his science blog “BRHP - Between a Rock and a Hard Place” at http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  Dariusz is a Research Professor at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.

Follow Dariusz on twitter: @blogBRHP

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are author’s own and should NOT be considered as the official opinions of the STUK - Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.


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Dariusz Leszczynski

Dariusz Leszczynski is an expert in the biological and health effects of cell phone radiation.

Since 2009 he publishes a science blog dealing with the issue of cell phone radiation and health: http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are authors' own and SHOULD NOT be considered as opinions of any of his employers.

Contact Dariusz Leszczynski


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